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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Our great democracy

In recent weeks, Western commentators have been effusive in their praise of the unfolding wonder that is the "democratisation" of Egypt. Some have suggested that the rest of the Arab world would do well to follow suit as quickly as they possibly can. Apparently, the Beatles were wrong. All you need is democracy.

If only that were true.

Our own great democracy has been performing at spectacularly underwhelming levels. In the last month, our great leaders have fought over who has the right to pay the least amount of money towards the nation's health care; they have fought over who should pay for the desperate task of rebuilding QLD after the floods/cyclone that destroyed the state; and most recently, our leaders tried desperately to start a fight over whether Australian taxpayers should foot the bill for Christmas Island asylum seekers to be able to attend the funerals of their drowned relatives. (They should just be grateful they weren't smashed against the rocks themselves, I guess.)

So much for this great-hearted sunburnt land of Vegemite smeared babies who grow up, embalmed in the salty waves of equality beach, to be the very personification of the most precious of all australian values, the fair go.

Democracy gives power to the people sure (inshallah), but the test of a good democracy depends just as much upon what the people are prepared to let their leaders get away with.

Enter Tony Abbott.

Footage has been found which shows Tony Abbott being briefed by the Commander of the Australian troops in Afghanistan (An American! I know! Need I mention the Breaker Morant and Suva Bay debacles?!). The Commander describes the fact that in an attack in which an Australian soldier died, the army did not receive sufficient air support. He commiserates that the air support failure could not be attributed to any specific reason. In response, Abbott is seen on camera saying that in war, "shit happens".

Fair enough really. I'm sure it does. Having just finished the censored account of an Australian digger's experience at Gallipolli (To Hell and Back, if you're interested), I couldn't agree with Abbott more. Shit does, and did, happen. Pretty much every day.

What didn't look great was that Abbott was seen to be flippant about an Australian soldier's death. All he needed to do was explain that he was not at all being flippant, and it would not even have made the papers. Instead, our opposition leader stood, staring down his inner rage, hoping the film in the journalist's camera would run out before his fuse did. Have a look for yourself:

What is disturbing about this footage is not that Abbott got caught out saying that "shit happens". What is disturbing is that when questioned about the matter, he was so incapable of controlling his own inner rage that he is barely able to restrain himself from coming to physical blows with the journalist.

We are a great democratic nation. And this is our great democracy. One leader is so desperately lacking in charisma that people write 500 word articles rejoicing the fact that her voice "faltered" when describing the deaths of Australian citizens in the QLD floods during a session of parliament. (She lives!) The other leader is an intellectual nobody, a brazen steel-balls oxford fighter who is on the record as not wanting us to believe everything he says, a man so incapable of controlling his feelings when reasonably challenged, that he is not able to think of one sane word to say in his own defence.

The choice is anaesthetising.

Allah and God be praised. Here lies the great democracy we never bothered to fight for.

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